Film 2018: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn


It was a toss-up this morning between this and Chicken Run for this week’s Film 2018 slot. Either way, I was in the mood for something lightweight and enjoyable with which to kick back and relax.

Not that The Secret of the Unicorn comes without controversy. It’s the product of two of the biggest film-makers in the world, Stephen Spielberg, who directed it and Peter Jackson, who produced it, it was produced using a combination of motion capture and CGI, and it freely adapts three of Herge’s Tintin books, being primarily the two-part ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’/’Red Rackham’s Treasure’, with a substantial dose of ‘The Crab With The Golden Claws’.

Now this is heavy nostalgia country for me. My first exposure to Tintin came in the early Sixties thanks to the Tele-Hachette and Belvision animated series, Herge’s Adventures of Tintin (I can hear the exact intonation of that announcement to this day!). This adapted (somewhat freely) several of the Tintin books into five minute episodes that would feature on BBC (pre-1 and 2) at 5.45pm, Monday to Friday, the last gasp of Children’s TV.

And the first of these I saw was ‘The Crab With The Golden Claws’, to be followed by, of course, ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ and ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’. What better choice of albums to adapt to entertain me personally?

There’s a universe of difference between the flat, limited animation of the TV series, which simplifies yet further Herge’s ligne clair style, and the heightened realism of the 2011 film, which rounds the characters up into three-dimensional form whilst retaining their cartoonish appearance. Where the serial, with its limited animation, avoids the detailed and realistic backgrounds that distinguished the albums, the film positively relishes it, particularly in the spectacular Bagghar chase scene.

But that’s where the controversy arises. Though the film was commercially successful, and was generally applauded, there were dissenting voices, none more loudly that in the Guardian who, in over a dozen different articles over less than ten days, slated the film unmercifully, accused it of raping Tintin (so, no over-reaction there) and basically forbade its audience to not only enjoy the film but to have a mind of their own about it, a tactic that failed with at least one person, who was pretty near determined to enjoy it out of sheer annoyance.

And enjoy it I did, for its own sake. I’m not blind to its flaws, nor to one unexpected one that’s a product of later events, but it’s a sunny, exciting, silly romp, and a fun spectacle that’s as near to Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock and the Thompsons walking off the page and circling you.

I was late to the cinema when I saw it there, and missed the credits and a minute or so of the film, so I was not aware until buying the DVD that the story starts with a touching tribute: we meet Tintin in a marketplace, having his picture drawn by an artist, who gently asks if he has drawn him before: it is Herge himself producing a likeness that is the simplest of Herge drawings.

From there, though, the film spends most of its time developing its plot, often to the accompaniment of high-speed action. In that sense, the film is entirely ‘realistic’, relying for its implausibility on the story itself, and the characters, though like any other CGI film it enhances that ‘realism’. It takes a few moments to adjust to the sight of cartoon figures with solid bodies walking around, and the ‘realism’ of the world has been correspondingly adjusted towards a roundedness that incorporates detail and atmosphere into a plastic solidity, but once the trick is worked, we are in the film’s vision and ready to accelerate.

Basically, the plot is that boy journalist Tintin becomes suspicious when attempts are made to first buy, then steal, a miniature ship he buys at the market. This is the ‘Unicorn’, the treasure ship of Sir Francis Haddock, sink by Pirate Red Rackham. The secret it conceals, or they conceal for there are three identical copies, is the whereabouts of Sir Francis’s Treasure, and the clue is three identical scrolls, each concealed in the main mast that, when matched and held up to the light, give the lat. and long. of the Treasure.

Tintin has one, though it’s stolen from him by a compulsive pickpocket, the villain Sakharine (Rackham’s descendent), who has bought the former ancestral Haddock home, Marlinspike Hall, has a second, and the third is in the collection of Sheikh Omar ben Salaad of Bagghar, which is where ‘The Crab with the Golden Claws’ element comes in.

And so does Captain Haddock. Captain Archibald Haddock, that is, not that anyone ever uses the first name. Splendid old drunken Captain Haddock, joyously incarnated by Andy Serkis, with a Scottish accent that fits the character well. Awash with whiskey, rum, brandy and more, Haddock is the rightful heir to Markinspike and the Treasure, and the film’s comedic spine, and Serkis is brilliant in the part, coming close to overcoming the one fatal flaw in this version of Captain Haddock – the voice.

I’m sorry, I grew up on ‘Herge’s Adventures of Tintin’ and whilst I can accept almost anyone in the Tintin world sounding different, I cannot escape Captain Haddock’s voice from so long ago. If it isn’t Peter Hawkins’ drink-soaked crustiness, it isn’t real.

That’s the one thing the film cannot provide. There are other areas in which it can be criticised, the first being how frenetic it is. There’s always something going on and, in true serial fashion, the film constantly shoots from fast-paced confrontation to fast-paced confrontation. The Bagghar chase sequence is spectacular, being a frantic and panoramic race from the Sheikh’s palace on the heights through the crowded town to the docks, with the broken dam sending water surging through the background as a counterpoint. It’s great, but it’s too fast and has too much going on, and the same goes for all the action scenes: there’s little or no variation of pace once the film has got the bit between its teeth.

In between, there are slower moments but where these might be the opportunity for more reflective moments, in keeping with the originals, and with the heightened reality of things, they’re usually geared to the progression of the story, and the one occasion when they’re not, when everything seems lost and Tintin accepts defeat only for Haddock to come up with a pep-talk, you rather wish they hadn’t, because it’s nothing but shallow rah-rah-rah.

Of course, a lot of this is the fault of the script, which comes from Edgar Wright, Adam Cornish and… Stephen Moffat. Three hip, intelligent English writers, with a modern sensibility, two of whom with a string comedy back-up, and Moffat back when his ‘Doctor Who’ was still good.

This leads me to that unexpected flaw that wasn’t present as such at the time the film first appeared, namely that Andy Serkis is delivering Moffat asides in a Scottish accent, which suddenly sounds entirely too Peter Capaldi for my particular liking. The resemblance keeps jerking me slightly out of the film, and not in a good direction either.

But the biggest charge against the film, and not just made by the Guardian is that ultimately the decision to make three-dimensional cartoons leaves the look of the film suspended between cartoon and reality in a place that the eye cannot fully accept or allow because it is too much of both to ever form its own plausible existence. Naturally, I don’t wholly agree, or at least not enough to dislike the film, whose energy carries it over nearly all its hurdles, but I can understand the point and it’s not without merit.

Nevertheless, and despite the unconscionably long delays, I’m still looking forward to the sequel, though it’s going through an incredibly long gestation period. It’s supposed to be Prisoners of the Sun, an adaptation of ‘The Seven Crystal Balls’/’Prisoners of the Sun’, with ‘The Blue Lotus’ (and presumably ‘Tintin in Tibet’) as the third. Peter Jackson needs to get a move on though: people who grew up on Herge’s Adventures of Tintin aren’t going to be around for ever.

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Treme: s01 e04 – At the foot of Canal Street


Janette Desaunel

I’m currently kicking myself for having had this DVD boxset for so long and not having watched it before now. This great, gorgeous, rolling thing has sucked me in and it’s getting increasingly harder, after another episode, not to fire up the next one.

And at the same time, it’s becoming a little bit hard to describe each episode without reverting to the same words each week. There is a story here, or rather there are several, spreading in different directions but all charged by the same binding energy, the thing that is New Orleans and its culture and the refusal to give up on what that means to our band of players.

The biggest element this week came from Antonie Batiste, that force of nature that is Wendell Pierce. Antoine’s a large man, in both body and presence, yet he’s a small man in terms of importance, a musician without an instrument, with a split lip and a lost tooth. This forces him up to Baton Rouge, to spend some time with his two sons, in awkwardness and professions of love that don’t quite carry off, whilst his ex-wife’s Dentist husband fits him for a bridge that will enable him to play again – if Toni Bernette can find his missing ‘bone in Police Evidence.

Toni’s still working with LaDonna to find her missing brother. The guy using his name, Keevon White, is happy to recount how he persuaded the too-soft David to switch bracelets with him: Keevon is wanted for murder and David for ‘bullshit charges’, but he ain’t signing to it.

Christmas is coming, Creighton’s between semesters, he’s getting a bit too reclusive for Toni’s liking. There’s Davis arriving late for Sofia’s piano lesson: his care wrecked by an inadequately treated pothole, his keyboard stolen when he gets Creighton to give him a lift back, his self-entitled petulance turning into a song after Janette, her restaurant closing after the gas cuts out, blows him off to go home, sleep despair. Creighton records another expletive-ridden YouTube rant that gains him recognition and applause when he does go out in public, adding a degree of buoyancy to his step and making me wish I hadn’t read the spoiler I read last week.

The Tribe are practicing. Darius, the kid from last week, wanders in and picks up the rhythm. His Aunt Lula follows him to find him, and invites Albert to dinner: she’s definitely got her eye on him, and Albert knows what’s going on.

But Jessie’s funeral is coming up, and his Mother doesn’t want the Tribe to chant, nor Albert to speak, even as just a friend. She always found something a bit disgraceful in Jessie being the Wild Man for the Tribe and doesn’t want the reminder. Albert respects her wishes, though it pains him as much as Jessie’s son telling him he’s leaving N’Awleans after the funeral.

Whilst Delmond’s agent is trying to talk him into a nationwide tour, all down the West Coast, ending in New Orleans, but Delmond isn’t comfortable. He’s from New Orleans but he doesn’t play New Orleans music.

And there’s Annie. It’s only three weeks, and Lucia Micarelli hasn’t done much more than play music, whenever and wherever she can, throwing herself into what she does with all her heart, but I am so looking forward to her onscreen. It’s not just that she’s sweet, and gently pretty, but that Annie is like a beacon: brilliantly talented, genuinely modest, seemingly without a shadow, or is that, not yet? Her shadow is Sonny, who’s from Amsterdam but is fixated on New Orleans. He’s on the road this week, a trip to Texas, trying to build his own rep and play, but he hasn’t got talent, not when set against her, one of those middling musicians who’s good at what he does but who will never be exceptional, and he’s paired with someone who is and can be, and no matter how near of far beneath the surface it is, he knows it and it’s going to be a problem.

Life going on under impossible circumstances. What can I say that I won’t find myself trying to say again next week? Broad canvas. Kaleidoscope. Sprawling lives. This is, according to everybody who had reason to know, a faithful, impassioned portrait of life after Katrina, but you get the sense that if this had been happening in ‘normal’ times, without the disaster that’s both at the heart of the series and which is carefully played around its perimeter, not much would be different for these people, for whom life is uphill anyway.

I have season 2 sitting waiting for when the end of this road is reached. I’ll take my time getting there. There were only 36 episodes all told. Let’s make this last. Down in the Treme, just me and my baby…

Deep Space Nine: s06 e18 – Inquisition


Section 31

Hmmm, interesting.

This was an episode that displayed a considerable control of its tempo and tone, starting off by creating a bit of a sinking feeling that it was all going to be a bit too comic, and morphing into something considerably more serious and with deep-lying implications that caused a deal of controversy among Star Trek fans. Only on Deep Space Nine, only on Deep Space Nine.

The storyline is misleadingly simple. Bashir’s off to a Medical Conference on Casperia Prime, a lush, beautiful world, and being a bit smug about it, first to Odo, then to Miles O’Brien, who’s dislocated his shoulder again, kayaking in the holosuite.

But the next morning, his trip is cancelled, as the entire Senior Staff is confined to quarters during an examination into a security breach by Internal Affairs, acting by Director Sloan (William Sadler in a role originally intended for Martin Sheen). It’s not long before questioning concentrates on the Doctor, who is accused of being a spy for the Dominion. The theory is that, during his incarceration by the Dominion, whilst he was replaced on DS9 by a Changeling, Bashir was broken and turned into a spy who is concealing his own treachery even from himself by engrammatic dissociation – the creation of mental blocks compartmentalising the mind.

Bashir refuses to believe that and, initially, so does Sisko. But it’s a cunning detail, one impossible to disprove since it revolves around the idea that the accused is lying even to himself.

Sisko’s refusal to let Sloan do exactly what he wants to break Bashir leads to the Director’s decision to remove the Doctor to a maximum security cell. But this is disrupted by the unexpected teleportation of Bashir. Onto a Cardassian ship, to met Weyoun, who greets Bashir sympathetically. The story teeters on the edge of what would have been a truly tremendous and extremely dark revelation, that Sloan was right: Bashir has been aiding the Dominin, on ‘moral’ and ‘humanitarian’ grounds.

But that’s a twist too far. What Bashir takes from this supposed confirmation of his guilt is that Weyoun and Sloan are acting together to frame him, that Sloan is the traitor. And he’s not far off the mark: there’s a violent twist as the Defiant catches up with and attacks the Cardassian ship (too fast, how did they track it?). It’s got the full Senior Staff on board and they’re hostile, convinced Bashir is a traitor. Miles O’Brien throws him off. With his dislocated shoulder. The one he got playing stringball…

And the illusion dissolves into a holodeck, with Sloan and two assistants all dressed in unadorned black uniforms. Sloan is much more chatty now, convinced Bashir is innocent. He has been tested and has passed: he did set off for the Medical Conference after all, but was kidnapped en route, and it has all been a charade designed to test him to destruction.

Bashir is less than relieved at his exoneration however. He’s concerned about Sloan and his organisation. They’re not Internal Affairs, Sloan confirms, they’re Section 31, a secret, autonomous unit established at the birth of the Federation. They are the worm in the apple, the canker in the bud, the dirty jobs merchants. Beneath the surface of the utopia that is the Federation, they do what is necessary to ensure that the Federation remains a utopia. They are Judge, Jury, and Executioner.

Bashir is outraged. Section 31 offends every principle on which the Federation is built. And he is even more outraged that, given his high level of intelligence, his loyalty to the Federation, his genetic modifications, Sloan wants him to join Section 31. He refuses in disgust.

Once back on DS9, however, discussing his experience with Odo, Kira and Sisko, who reports that there is no Director Sloan in Starfleet, and that the Federation refuse to either confirm or deny the existence of Section 31, it is agreed that the dirty tricks section will try to recruit Bashir again. This time, the Captain orders, he will accept…

The idea of Section 31 was controversial among fans because it most directly breached Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the Federation as a perfect set-up, as humanity having resolved all its issues and living happily ever after. Deep Space Nine had deliberately, but quietly, set itself to explore the darker side of that vision, the uncomfortable reality that perfect societies don’t stay perfect of themselves, but require a helping hand, beneath what’s on view, to ensure it’s that way.

It’s a broad streak of grey through the black and white, it’s the embodiment of the Greater Good argument. Being Deep Space Nine, we’re offered nothing but equivocation, in equal parts because this is not a black and white question, that it is not a simple question, and that this is a long-running prime-time drama series. But I am reminded of the late Ursula Le Guin’s classic short story, “The Ones who walk away from Omelas”, which I recommend you read.

We live in a dark Universe. It’s always good that our fiction reflects that darkness.

Film 2018: Y Tu Mama, Tambien


This film represents the entirety of my Mexican film collection, and this morning is only the second time I have watched it.

It’s a strange film, for all that it adopts the conventional form(s) of the coming-of-age story and the road movie. It’s also deliberately explicit in depictions of sex, conversations about sex, and drug usage, to an extent that would be unacceptable in Britain, let alone a conservative, Catholic country like Mexico. But though the film is intentionally transgressive in this approach, it’s never defiant. It’s just a rich, realistic portrayal of the trio at the heart of it.

These are Tenoch Iturbide (Diego Luna), Julio Zapata (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Luise Cortes (Maribel Verdu, a Spanish actress playing a Spanish character). Tenoch and Julio are best buddies despite their differing social backgrounds. The film starts with each of them enthusiastically screwing their girlfriends, Ana and Cecilia, who are about to leave for Italy on a summer trip.

Other than this, and the fact their girlfriends are eager for farewell fucks that are ever so slightly awkward and hasty, we don’t get to see the boys’ relationships beyond this, though the course of the filmgives us plenty of material from which to draw conclusions, starting with the boys’ joint dismissal of farewells as bullshit.

That’s just the first in a long line of things this pair of seventeen year olds dismiss as bullshit, or if it’s people, as assholes. Yes, these are seventeen year olds at their worst: stupid, ignorant, obsessed with sex and spliffs, permanently competitive, finding farts a source of massive humour (that one is an infallible guide): in short, assholes, and wankers (they even compete at that). In real life, you’d look at them with disgust as complete wastes of space, not to mention protoplasm.

Indeed, for large stretches of the film, I found myself doing that, but I never once thought of switching off. In part, that was because of the strength of the performances by Luna and Bernal (who were good friends in real life), and in part because of what else was going on around them.

Much of that was Luisa. She enters the film after we’ve spent about ten minutes getting to know the boys, a slim, dark woman with a wide mouth: aged 28, she is married to Tenoch’s older and more than somewhat self-satisfied cousin, Jano. They’re all at a wedding party, honoured by the presence of the President (Tenoch’s father is a senior official in the ruling party: the story is set in 1999, just twelve months before this party will loe power for the first time in 71 years).

Tenoch and Julio try to pick Luisa up, inviting her to join them on a spurious trip to a perfect, remote beach, Boca del Cielo (Heaven’s Mouth). Recognising their gaucheness – they might as well have neon lights over their heads – she declines, but after a sequence of unexplained events, the most overt of which is Jano’s drunken telephone confession that he’s slept with another woman – she phones up Tenoch to ask if the invitation is still open.

So the boys take her off for an impromptu trip to a beach that doesn’t exist, with nowhere in mind to go. In the final third of the film, they will find an absolutely perfect beach, remote and unspoiled: it is, of course, called Boca del Cielo.

But that’s for later. Right now, the most obvious question is why on Earth Luisa would decide to accompany two such lame kids, whose combined maturity wouldn’t fill a thimble even if you spat in it afterwards. That’s a question that’s never answered explicitly, but it’s answered in full at the film’s end, a revelation that strings together several actions on Luisa’s part, most notably her propensity to burst into tears when she’s alone.

Ah yes, the road-trip. The film takes itself off into rural Mexico, endless shots of the car rolling along long bare roads, in country blasted by incessant heat, with few or none other vehicles in sight, all of which are travelling more slowly. The background unfolds, in the background, over which stories are told by our travellers, the boys boastful and stupid, competing for Luisa’s attention, whilst she speaks of her first boyfriend, her only real love, dead in an accident.

But the background is constantly there. It’s a world away from these self-entitled kids, and they pay it little attention – if they can’t wank off to it, it’s not there – but the audience can’t escape it. Little details, the presence of Police and Army, the obvious poverty, and not just economically, are constantly passing before our eyes in a way that we can’t ignore, because despite the stupidity of this pair, constantly encouraged to talk without inhibition by Luisa, we have sunk into this film. The journey is without purpose or end, the journey is the journey, and we share it.

Luisa isn’t there to screw either of the boys but she ends up screwing both. First Tenoch, catching her crying when he enters her room in search of shampoo. Luisa gets him to drop his towel, plays with him, fucks him, if you can call something that lasts literally seconds before he obviously comes a fuck.

This is the act that changes everything. Julio sees the tail-end of it, and retaliates by telling Tenoch that he has screwed Ana. Tenoch’s fragile self-confidence collapses and he rages at Julio. The next day, the tension palpable, Luisa tries to even the score by fucking Julio in the car, in front of Tenoch. Julio doesn’t last any longer, whilst Tenoch flies off into a petulant rage that makes him look more like a twelve year old than seventeen.

So, as soon as they’re under way again, Tenoch drops the bomb that he’s also had Cecilia.

The tension’s rising like mercury. Luisa threatens to abandon the pair over their behaviour, and only agrees to return if they accept her rules for the remainder of the trip, which start with her not screwing either of them.

Accidentally, they discover Boca del Cielo, a place of beauty that calms the nerves. They fall in with Chuy, a local fisherman, and his wife Mabel. Their daughter adopts Luisa as a second mother. The idyll is interrupted when the beach camp is attacked by a herd of pigs, escaped from a nearby farm. The trio go into town, staying at Chuy’s bar.

They get incredibly drunk and start dancing together as a threesome. This continues into their quarters, into an extraordinary scene where, after the boys have stripped her naked, Luisa kneels to stimulate both. Above her head, they sway towards one another, and begin to kiss. They wake in the morning, naked in bed, unable to look at each other. Both decide they have to get back to the City. Luisa stays behind, to explore further.

From here to the end of the film is only a few moments. The trip back is eventless. In the city, Ana and Cecilia dump them on their return from Italy. Both eventually find other girlfriends. They no longer see each other. A year later, they bump into each other by accident, go for a coffee because it’s easier than coming up with a reason not to. Both have changed. They will never meet again.

And Tenoch tells Julio that Luisa died a month after they left her. She had cancer, had known about it. All the pieces fall into place, little dominoes clicking as they come down. Because.

Yet this is a film of enormous life. You may despise Tenoch and Julio for most of it, and you may perversely decide that, for all they needed to just grow up, the selves they briefly show themselves as having become are mere negations of life, and that Luisa, who was ultimately more nihilist than both of them put together, had more life in her than anyone. The film does not lead you. It makes its road trip into its metaphor, and its ending into a dividing line. This trio found paradise: two left.

It’s a remarkable experience, and it has to be said that Maribel Verdu was lovely throughout, or at least I have to say it, but the true mark of her success was that she transcended her sexuality and made even the most explicit moments look human and not mechanical. These people lived and breathed: if you’re going to do sex and nudity on screen, this was a perfect example of how to do it.

Mention must also be made of the use of a narrator, interjecting asides about people, places, times and, in the case of Chuy, and Tenoch and Julio’s final meeting, fates beyond the film. In each case, the narrator is isolated: the soundtrack grows silent, and into that silence, as the film continues, he speaks, drily, dispassionately, sometimes with irony. What at first seems slightly awkward soon becomes a commentary telling us pertinent stories.

I’m sure that, not being Mexican or understanding their politics in 1999, there are many subtleties I’ve missed, but what’s up front for we Anglos to see is more than enough on a wet Sunday morning.

A Midday Expedition


Didsbury Village – desirable

It’s time for another expedition, though this one was more of a midday effort by the time I got sorted. I’d been contemplating inertia after being out both the last two days: writing that needed doing, essential shopping only, but a phone call and an unplanned visitor spurred me into action. I needed to shave and shower so, after that effort, I might as well go out.

Business done, I was off to Stockport to wait for another 23A in the Bus Station (which I have learned, this week, they plan to demolish entirely and move somewhere where it’s not right in the centre of Stockport and convenient to everyone, not least me). The sun is high, the sky blue, such cloud as there is is wisps, thin, pale, a change in shade, no more. It might be July, except that we no longer have Julys like this any more.

I wasn’t going anything like as far as Trafford Park today, no indeedy. I was going to check out that bookshop behind Didsbury Village, plus one other old haunt I haven’t visited in years.

There was no old history to recall until the bus had gone through East Didsbury. I lived round the corner from here for twenty-three years, my time in Nottingham excepted. Three corners are changed irrevocably and long-tme: the Metrolink station, the Tesco’s Superstore, the Parrs Wood Entertainment Centre. The fourth corner is still a green island in this complex junction.

Didsbury Cricket Club were preparing for a match, the wickets proud in the pale strip at the centre of the emerald turf. The Village itself was bustling. Even from the bus it had the look and feel of a place that is hip, if it is still hip to describe things as hip, and cool, if it is still cool to describe things as cool.

I let the bus take me round into Barlow Moor Road, not realising how far it was to the next stop, at Hesketh Avenue, and left myself a long and hot walk back. Still, it was better than Trafford Park.

The bookshop was actually part of, and reached through, The Art of Tea, a decided;ly hip and cool place, dare I say it, even artisanal. None of which mattered once I got into the back. I haven’t been in a proper paper-and-ink secondhand bookshop for years, and I’d forgotten just how comfortable it feels. Immediately, I spotted a book, A Treasury of Disney Animation Art, a sequel to The Illusion of Life, on which I dropped £25 brand new, over thirty years ago. It was way above my impulse buy budget, even when I got into conversation with the owner, Bob, who’s got to be at least ten years older than me and admits to running this as a hobby, and he knocked £2.00 off for me. Reader, I bought it.

Enter an old acquaintance, Mike Don, who sells second hand books, originally as mail-order and now mainly through the internet, as Dreamberry Wine. Mike still lives on Maine Road: I was taken there once, my a mate who was a part-time comics dealer, back when the Bitters still lived there (hack, plew!). My mate spent ages dithering over a set of Patricia McKillip’s A Riddle of Stars trilogy, hardback in immaculate dust jackets. Playing scrupulously fair, I kept schtum, fully intending to grab them if he decided against: he bought them, and it took me thirty years and eBay to amass them.

The Village was still busy. It’s not like Wilmslow, I didn’t feel so out of place and unwashed here, but there’s a line drawn in invisible sand, between those for whom the Village is run, and those of us who remember it from forty years ago, when it was just a place for those who lived round it.

The big white building on the corner of the lights used to be the Cavalcade, or just the Cav. Me and my mate drank here often. It was old, and didn’t care, basic but comfortable, a place to sit and drink. Then, one Sunday night, we popped in to meet one of my mate’s colleagues,. who lived locally. It had changed out of all recognition: bright and brittle, chromium and glass, its name changed to something quasi-military that I can no longer remember. I hated it on sight and ordered a half, so that if she arrived immediately, I could bolt it down and we could leave straight away. Never set foot in the place again.

Now it’s CAU, which stands for Carne Argentina Unica, a restaurant it seems, serving Beunos Ares food.

I needed the loo, it was hot, I went in the Crown and ordered a half. It was cool, and so was the drink, which I gulped down in three goes, wishing I’d ordered a pint. I can’t remember if I’ve ever been in there before, I think not. It looked and felt unchanged. Except for the big TV’s, showing Sky’s lunchtime match.

Back outside, I crossed the road, not because there was anything I wanted to see, because there wasn’t, but because, further up the Village, there was an odd little cobbled street where Morten’s Bookshop used to be sited and, Madre de Dios!, it’s sill there!

Of course I went in, I was nostalgia-tripping, wasn’t I? It’s a completely different type of bookshop, mostly new books, mostly paperbacks. The old instincts kicked in: in Bookshop, buy Book. There was a table of signed copies, a table of Bargain books, but I lingered longest over Harrison Ainsworth’s The Lancashire Witches, which I noted was published by… Mortens.

There was a bus stop over the road, outside the Library. Once, I could and would have walked it, but time, age, knee, hip, heat. It may be short, but it’s two buses. Actually, if I had walked it, I’d have missed this lovely girl who stood at the stop: tall, slim, long brown hair, wearing a floaty denim dress that buttons up the front. The deep plunge neck indicated clearly that she was braless, whilst the dress, buttoned only to midthigh, was biassed to a long expanse of leg. A delightful sight.

Two stops on this bus, three on the next, or rather not. It only runs once an hour and I was almost exactly halfway between, so I had to walk it anyway. Fog Lane used to support two alternating services, West Didsbury to Droylsden, every ten minutes, regular as clockwork.

Mention of Fog Lane should clue those who know their rock history in to the fact that my second destination was the legendary Sifters, secondhand records, regular haunt of the Gallagher brothers and me. After decades of visits at least every month, this was only my second in the past eight years, for this place is a bugger to get to by bus.

It hasn’t changed a bit. I clicked through CDs, chatted with Pete, came out with Van Morrison and Carole King, £2.95 each, no postage. It might as well have been a week or two since my last visit as the more than five years it actually was. I even recognised the majority of artists, for this was a traditional pile-em-high-and-sell-em-cheap Pop and Rock shop and there was no alienation in there.

I’d had to keep an eye on the time so as not to miss the next bus, and I was ten minutes early – the usual paranoid cushion. The bus was late – naturally: I’m waiting for it – but only by three minutes, and I was the only one on it, apart from the driver.

This used to be the province of the 169/170, services that ran this route since God’s dog was a pup, but that was then. This was a 171: at Green End Roundabout it took the Errwood Road exit, the old 170 section. This was the least changed part of my journey. These are the wide grass verges, the set-back semi-detached houses, Cringle Fields, that I went past on the bus to school in 1966. Levenshulme Girls School is still there on one side, but not McVities Biscuits on the other.

Here was where I met Linda again, five years after we’d both left Elysian Street for Senior Schools. She was tall, slim, short-skirted, mature, self-confident, long blonde hair, and not quite 16. I was ten weeks younger than her and none of those things.

She (re)introduced me to old mates who’ve been friends to this day, but we knocked around a bit only for about ten months before drifting apart again. On Stockport Road, a little further on, we met up again, after another decade. Her father had died, I’d written a letter of sympathy, we’d arranged to meet one Tuesday night, at a now long-demolished small Sports Centre, where she and a bunch of her colleagues played badminton every week.

Typically, I got it wrong and went straight to the little pub adjacent, where they had a drink afterwards. She rushed in after me, looking worried, went straight past me at the bar. Not without a little trepidation, I took up my pint and followed her: this time she saw through the beard.

She was married, she was a computer programmer, she wore her hair short (I never saw it long again). We were friends for fifteen years. She named her first son after me, I thought of her as another sister: she was certainly closer than my actual sister was. But after she divorced her husband, she became distant: when she moved to Leeds and re-married, that was it. I haven’t seen or heard from her in two decades.

Apart from a half mile of Mount Road, the rest of the journey used none of the old 169/170 route until I got off in a much-changed street at the back of the Gorton Tesco’s. This was the last stop, in intent and energy. One final bus journey on the 203, the fifth of the day, eventless and thought-less until I’m home, where I relaxed and watched Manchester United win their FA Cup Semi-Final. They’re playing the Final opposite the Prince Harry/Meghan Markle wedding: I wonder which one I’ll watch?

But it’s true: I should get out more often. Travel stimulates the mind. I remember so many things when I visit places I no longer go. There are miniature autobiographies in bus-routes.

Eagle Volume 13 (1962)


The new look

There were only nine issues remaining of that version of Eagle that connected back to the leading boy’s comic of the Fifties. With issue 10, the new owners, Mirror Group, as Longacre Press, brought in their first revamp. Two more, less sweeping, would happen before the end of this Volume alone, but this was the one that severed the connection between what was and what would be.
The cover of issue 10 was a brutal shock. Dan Dare was gone, and so too was the red banner. Instead, the word Eagle was spelled out in red characters against a weak, white background, and instead of a cover feature there were three colour panels, each teasers for features inside.
One was, still, Dan Dare, but that was the only thing left. Gone, at long last and forever, were ‘Riders of the Range’ and ‘Storm Nelson’. Gone were ‘Danger Unlimited’ and ‘Knights of the Road’. Gone was George Cansdale, whose long association with Eagle was severed at the beginning of the year. Gone were almost everything that appeared in issue 9, with the exception of the Pilot of the Future, the hapless ‘Home of the Wanderers’ and a new feature that had debuted at the start of Volume 12, ‘The Man from Eagle’, or ESI Resurrected in all but name, and MacDonald Hastings.
‘Fidosaurus’ was retained, and Reg Parlett also introduced the equally unfunny ‘XYZ Cars – Calling ‘U’ for Useless’, the very title of which representing the confusion. A few ‘Harris Tweed – Super Chump’s were leftover, and these half-pagers would pop up here and there, at random, along with a couple of unused ‘Mr Therm’s.
But a concerted effort was made to rid Eagle of everything that smacked of the Hulton days, of Marcus Morris and Frank Hampson (whose name was NOT to be whispered around the offices). It’s clear that Longacre would also have got rid of Dan Dare if they thought they could. As it was, the entire creative team were dropped (Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell were treated infamously, with no notice of their dismissal: the scripts just stopped turning up abruptly). David Motton took over scripting, with a brief to limit stories to no more than thirteen weeks, and no recurring characters except Dan and Digby, Keith Watson was re-hired on art (well aware that if the editorial staff had known he’d been part of Hampson’s studio, he would have been out on his ear) and the series was slid inside, and dropped into black and white.
Later in the Volume, it would be pushed into the back half of the comic, and split over non-facing pages. Watson refused to let it die, producing masterful greywash art and restoring the old Spacefleet uniforms, waving the flag.
‘Home of the Wanderers’ continued to rival ‘Knights of the Road’ for dullness. It changed title twice, to ‘Wanderers Away’ and ‘The New Wanderer’ for two more stories then reverted to its overall title, for an extremely silly story about the team’s right winger becoming a pop singer in addition to his footballing duties, which was notable only for being the first time in which ‘pop’ music, as opposed to jazz, was recognised in Eagle.
Before I go on to the wholly Longacre Eagle, I should briefly mention the short-lived ‘The Sword of Fate’, which replaced ‘Last of the Saxon Kings’ in the centrespread, was drawn by the same flat artist and, despite not being recorded as such in the publication I rely on, is clearly another leftover from Comet. It ended with the hero going into unjust exile, suggesting there may have been a sequel lurking around somewhere, but we were never to be honoured by that.
So, what was the new ‘new’ Eagle made up of?
First of all, it was full of adaptations. Martin Aitchison moved smoothly on into drawing an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’. Frank Humphris picked up ‘Vengeance Trail’, adapted from the story, ‘Flaming Irons’ by ‘famed Western author, Max Brand’ (this latter in black and white). Later in the year, Humphris would get yet another B&W Western series to draw, in the shape of ‘The Devil’s Henchmen’, though from issue 11 onwards, Eagle ceased to credit either writer or artist except where required to, i.e., the originators of these adaptations.

Dan Dare B&W

From ‘The Lost World’, Aitchison was then commissioned to draw a series of adaptations of C.S Forrester’s ‘Hornblower’ novels, initially as ‘Lieutenant Hornblower R.N.’ across the centrespread, where his art seemed somehow flat and lifeless, and then in single page format, as ‘Captain Hornblower R.N.’, at which point his art recaptures his old energy, subtly reinforcing Frank Hampson’s point about artists only drawing one page of full colour art per week.
But that is to deny the evidence of the other artist to work on Eagle’s centrespread, the great Frank Bellamy.
After his early success with Sir Winston Churchill, Bellamy returned to the war years with the life of the British General, Bernard Montgomery, drawn as a centrespread and drawn with vigour and detail that betrayed none of the early uncertainty due to dealing with a living figure. Bellamy was in fantastic form, linework, composition, colouring, and his battle scenes were masterpieces of detail and impression.
And towards the end of the year, as part of Eagle‘s third revamp, Bellamy was back with the series that he is most recognised for, ‘Heros the Spartan’.
I’ll come to that. Meanwhile, there were three further, very contrasting series introduced in issue 10. The first of these was a new Police Crime strip, ‘Sergeant Bruce C.I.D.’, which went through a variety of artists before settling on the long-term choice of Paul Trevillion, creator of ‘You are the Referee’.
This was a black and white two-pager, set in the Midlands industrial city of Manningham, and starred Londoner Detective Sergeant Dave Bruce and his realistically depicted crime-cracking efforts. The situation, which was never really played up to any serious degree, was that Bruce was resented for having beaten out local man Bill Prior for the Sergeant’s role. Prior was Bruce’s partner and the only man with no grudges, not like the burly Inspector Wade. Bruce was supposed to be slowly earning his colleague’s trust but this never played into the series except tangentially.
Secondly, there was a true-life story series, ‘Only the Brave’, recounting actions by ordinary people, sometimes but not exclusively members of official services or the Services, undertaking rescues at their own, frequently severe risk. First, these were winners of the George Medal, then the British Empire Medal. This series lasted twenty-seven episodes from various artists, including Richard E Jennings and a sequence of five fine pages from Frank Bellamy, and the stories themselves were several times very touching.

The newer look

The last new feature was the new prose series, replacing ‘The Gay Corinthian’ (brought to an abrupt end with a half-page final instalment). We remained in Georgian times with ‘Beau Fortune’, author unknown but suspected to be Lee Mayne, though I incline more towards ‘Corinthian’s Ben Bolt, for the similarity of background.
Valentine ‘Beau’ Fortune is the leading Dandy of the day (which is usually between 1803 and 1805 but which skips to 1814 for one episode), a personal friend of George, Prince of Wales, the arbiter of High Fashion, an effete, unconcerned fop. Any resemblance to Sir Percy Blakeney is, of course, purely a coincidence, as is that of Fortune’s secret identity, The Masked Rider, a strong, confident adventurer, wanted to be hung as a highwayman and a thief but in secret a righter of wrongs.
For all its lack of originality, ‘Beau Fortune’ was nicely vigorous and enjoyable. The series, which only lasted as long as revamp no 3, mixed single episodes and two-parters, with one three-parter, and was good fun, and a highlight of this ill-thought out year.
And this Volume was ill-thought-out. The Hulton Eagle had had its series each in their places, but the Longacre Eagle never looked the same two weeks running, with series flipping pages. The certainty of two colour sheets and two black and white sheets was broken down, with what implications for the cost of printing I have no idea, but the colour-oriented cover would have the b&w Wanderers on page 2 and the colour ‘Lost World’ on page 3, backed by b&w on page 4.
What’s more, the drastic reduction in recurring series seriously weakened the overall effect of the paper. Where the reader had had a half dozen wide-ranging series to follow, having built up a consistent enthusiasm for Dan Dare, Jeff Arnold, Sergeant Luck et al., there were now few people to recognise and welcome back.
For example, ‘The Lost World’ was replaced by ‘Island of Fire’, in which two charter pilots, hired to fly an eccentric vulcanologist to a remote Pacific island that he believed would erupt and cause a chain reaction ripping the planet apart, found themselves caught up between an American gangster who’d stashed his bullion on the island, and a British warship. It lasted ten weeks, went nowhere, was just a one-off, and was notable only for giving Richard Jennings something to draw again, in colour for the first time since ‘Tommy Walls’.
But there were two more revamps to come. The first was only a partial revamp, starting in issue 35. This introduced ‘The Devil’s Henchman’, mentioned above, replacing ‘Only the Brave’, but more prominently was a new front cover look, ‘Kings of the Road’. These were superb, full-page poster paintings of vintage motor racing cars, in action, an open invitation to tear out and pin to bedroom walls, and were very much a change for the better.
However, the real revamp came with issue 43, and the introduction of three new ongoing series, stabilising Eagle‘s weekly content, and the replacement of ‘The Gay Corinthian’ with the first of three new prose serials.
It was a second substantial revamp in seven months, and if it was for the better, it was still a sign of the comic’s weakness that it had to be rescued so quickly. ‘Dan Dare’ moved into the back of the comic, it’s two pages split to appear on opposite sides of the same sheet, the first Eagle strip to be treated that way.
The first new series was ‘Mann of Battle’, a Second World War strip featuring Captain Pete Mann and his batman, ex-boxer Slogger Bates, on a secret mission in the Mediterranean. Drawn competently by Brian Lewis, beginning a long association with Eagle, this began a week early, with two pages, before being chopped down to one. Neither of the characters have much by way of personality and it just seems like it’s about killing Nazi soldiers, with no well-developed plotline.
Much better was ‘Can you Catch a Crook?’, which was a revamp of ‘Sergeant Bruce C.I.D’, on which Trevillion’s art was rapidly improving. Basically, the new format threw out the ‘resent-Dave-Bruce’ backstory, and introduced a challenge to the reader: two or three times during the episode, Bruce would make a deduction from something, and the reader was told to study the panel to spot the clue for themselves.

The Last Great Strip

In this form, the series would last for years, though once again it was jerked around by Longacre, like ‘Mann of Battle’. ‘Can you Catch a Crook?’ started as an expansive three-pager, only to abruptly lose a page. Did you ever get the feeling that somebody didn’t know what they were doing?
‘The Man from Eagle’ bit the dust with this revamp, and was replaced by ‘Are you the… type?’ This was another non-fiction two-pager, combining biography and yet more reader-participation. Each week, a prominent figure, e.g., astronaut John Glenn, or Russian Premier Nikita Kruschev (the series was nothing if not eclectic) would be profiled before the reader was faced with half a dozen multiple choice questions: anyone who got all the answers ‘right’ was deemed to be the feature’s ‘type’, which must have been real fun for the Kruschev Kid.
The new prose serial, writer unknown, was ‘Johnny Quick’, which overlapped into Volume 14. This was a boxing story, and a well-written, authentic-seeming story, albeit very much a history piece now. The title character is an up-and-coming boxer bidding for a challenge for the British title. He’s a former hothead, an ex-tearaway from a tough area, who’s gotten himself under control and got himself out through boxing, but someone is trying to blacken his reputation, paint him as a jumped-up hoodlum, a picture his own suppressed temper isn’t helping to dispel. It’s clearly a frame, but it’s one that took some unravelling.
Ok, again, it was a one-off: we would never hear of Johnny Quick again. But its quality was of a singularly higher level than much of the work we’d seen this volume. It was not a renaissance, but it was a sign that not all was lost.
What was a renaissance, however, was ‘Heros the Spartan’, drawn in the centrespread by Frank Bellamy, with some of the most masterful art of his career. Heros was the orphaned son of a Spartan leader, adopted by a Roman General, and a dignified, honourable, loyal soldier of Rome. This initial story, written by Tom Tully, creator of the series, features Heros being given his first command and sent to a mysterious island where lurks sorcery, black magic, evil priests.
It was to set the tone for ‘Heros’s entire run. Wherever he was sent, whatever his fate, the supernatural in one form or another would put the Spartan through all manner of incredible adventures.
Thanks to Frank Bellamy, who made everything not just plausible but dynamic, exciting, active, expressive and horribly creepy at times, ‘Heros the Spartan’ would for years rank second only to ‘Dan Dare’. Longacre wanted to kill off the Pilot of the Future but Dan was too big for them. In ‘Heros’, they gave Eagle more than one good thing. It was The Last Great Strip, and it was the best thing to come out of 1962.

The Infinite Jukebox: Take That’s ‘Rule the World’


Some songs get a place on The Infinite Jukebox for reasons that are personal.

And sometimes those reasons are personal also to someone else, whose privacy deserves to be respected.

This is, however, also a gorgeous song, with a superb arrangement and brilliant singing, and comes from one of my favourite films of all time.